Diversity was a bone of contention throughout the first days of the Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, held at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California. However, by the fifth day, when presentations came from ABC, Disney+, Disney Branded Television, and Freeform, the issue had evaporated.

The TCA Tour is an interview event coordinated between the TCA committee and the different U.S. TV outlets — networks, independents, PBS (public), cable, and streaming entities. TCA comprises about 250 critics, columnists, and journalists, mainly from the U.S. and Canada, with a handful from overseas, who cover television. The group was officially formed in 1979, but a loose gathering of TV journalists had been in existence for a few years prior to the official organization.

This year, TCA saw the shortest-ever tour — running from February 5-15, 2024. Normally the winter tour has averaged a run of two weeks, with the summer tour being three weeks. But last year’s strikes have meant there was an insufficient amount of content available for this tour. Production and TV outlet executives meet with the journalists because they want the exposure and coverage on what they are doing with their entity and in the past have spared no expense in doing so. The event is mostly held in the hotel, with occasional visits to studios around town to see sets where production of a TV show is going on, and conducting interviews with those associated with that TV show.

This winter tour had opened with a star power bang, courtesy of Apple+ (the one and only streamer that did turn up). Michael Douglas led the parade with Franklin, in which he plays Benjamin Franklin, and was followed by sessions featuring Noel Fielding, better known to American audiences for The Great British Bake-Off but now the titular star of The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin and a seemingly much less reluctant traveler, Eugene Levy, there promoting a second season of The Reluctant Traveler. Also part of the Apple core were Ben Mendelsohn, Juliette Binoche, Maisie Williams, and John Malkovich representing The New Look, about fashion icons Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, as well as Laura Dern, Ricky Martin and Carol Burnett for Palm Royale.

John Landgraf, chairman, FX Content & FX Productions, returned to the tour for his regular update about the world of television in general and FX in particular, including his reaction to the unexpected ending of the very popular Reservation Dogs, after a mere three seasons.

Landgraf also announced that the first installment of FX’s new American Sports Story franchise would premiere this year with Gladiator, about the rise and fall of NFL superstar Aaron Hernandez, based on work from The Boston Globe and the podcast platform Wondery; a second season of The Old Man; along with Dying for Sex, a limited series based on the hit Wondery podcast; and a new comedy series, English Teacher.

Landgraf always delivers an overview of the industry and this tour was no exception. “I believe we have been tracking the number of scripted shows for 15 years now, and that’s how we could see the storm coming,” he said. “At one point, there were more than 60 networks and brands making scripted original programming, which was just as unsustainable and overwhelming to the audience as making 600 adult scripted shows. And as most companies have now come to realize, quantity does not always lend itself to quality. Our attention spans have declined radically. And our impatience with things that are a little demanding has gone down.

“It’s something I’m really worried about in the media ecosystem created by the Internet,” Landgraf added. “[There are] 8,000 episodes of television available on the streaming platforms and so holding people’s attention is really difficult. We’ve radically increased the cost of making television in season one. We brought a lot of wonderful talent into television, but there’s been a spiraling and escalating cost. That’s part of what happens when you make 600 television shows. And so television shows start at such an expensive rate.  We have so many shows that started with modest budgets that we could afford to renew. That gets harder to do [now] when something is super expensive.

I can tell you that one of my greatest priorities at FX is to try to figure out how to make the next deep library,” Landgraf concluded.

This tour also welcomed a first-timer — the new industry research company, Hub Entertainment, headed by Jon Giegengack, who introduced TV journalists to what the company research will show about the changing way audiences now determine what they watch, among other things.

PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger opened her appearance by stating, “We’re gathered today at a profound moment in our history. The issues in front of us are so significant. And the state of the media today only amplifies those challenges.” She added: “In a world rife with misinformation and disinformation, people are truly struggling to find news they can trust and the context to understand our present moment.”

Two Ken Burns projects were revealed by Kerger, Leonardo Da Vinci, a two-part, four-hour documentary directed by Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, which will be Burns’ first non-American subject. It’s set to air in November 2024. The second project, The American Revolution, celebrates the 250th anniversary, in 2026, of the U.S. It will be co-directed by Burns. Sarah Botstein, and David Schmidt as a six-part, 12-hour series airing in the fall of 2025.

AMC debuted Monsieur Spade with star Clive Owen, along with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and a new The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.

Among National Geographic’s offerings were James Cameron and the Oscar-nominated Bobi Wine: The People’s President. The man himself, Jon Bon Jovi, revealed he and filmmakers had gone through 40 years of material to bring Thank You, Goodnight: The Bon Jovi Story to Hulu.

(By Mike Reynolds)

Audio Version (a DV Works service)

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